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Stray Voltage
There was a Double Rainbow

The first night of the auction, there was a double rainbow.

     This was after storms blew things across the yard, and the porta potty, there for the next day’s auction, fell over.

     The rest of the family went to the site where the valuables were auctioned: things like antiques and jewelry. Furniture. Old dolls and the sewing machine my grandmother used to patch up my old clothing. Lamps. I’m not even sure what exactly went because I was the one to stay behind at the farm to make sure no one came along to steal stuff.

     All over the yard, things were assembled: chairs and boxes of utensils. An old washing machine. Blankets. Rugs. The crib my mom used to sleep in. And me, too. In one of the sheds was a piano. Church pews. A bench. Outside the machine shed was lined with rows of tractors. A lawn mower. Inside the machine shed tables were filled with boxes of dishes. Tools. Tires. Old radios. Appliances and hoses.

     I’d been at the farm all week, having driven from New York with my dog Katsu. I had my hybrid bike on a rack on the back of my Toyota. We drove through Canada, across Michigan, then took the ferry from Ludington into Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. It’s a ferry ride I know, mostly from the four years I lived in Michigan—and my aunt Carol, who died three years before, would be the one to retrieve me. This time I took my car, and left Katsu in his dog seat, which meant there was a special section in the ferry for cars with dogs—where they could get a lot of air and proper circulation.

     The last time I was at the farm was after Dennis died, that February—where I carried his ashes down the aisle with my cousin, John. Dennis was godfather to us both. The next day, I went into the house with my sister and her husband, and our other cousins. We wore gloves and facemasks. Tried to bring down cobwebs. Dead bugs sticking to the webs. The blinds in all the rooms were shriveled. We took sheets away to get laundered. We went through boxes of papers. We swept. We cleaned. We dusted.

     The house was huge: made of seven bedrooms, a parlor, and a den. A living room, a dining room, a kitchen. Two bathrooms, a mudroom. A big kind of lounge upstairs. And closets big enough to be labeled as rooms of their own. The attic. And every room was full. Every closet, every drawer, contained stuff.

     My last time before that was probably before my grandma died. She died the same year I got my degree from Southern Mississippi. Her funeral was on the day of my graduation. Instead of walking across the stage, I was at her funeral. I drove up from Mississippi with my son, and my uncle Dennis, the one who ended up running the farm, walked with me through the cemetery, offering me tissues. My grandmother, I learned, was buried next to my childhood sweetheart, who shot himself in his early twenties. I had known that, had heard about it after it happened, but I didn’t know his plot was next to my grandma. And where my grandfather would later be buried, and later, the ashes of my uncle Dennis.

     After my grandma died, my uncle had their dog Lady euthanized. I’m not sure why. My grandfather went into assisted living. My uncle took over the farm. He rarely invited anybody over.

     Most of my other family members lived nearby. So, I opted to stay at the house during my visit. I brought a cot, and stayed in the room that used to belong to my mother. Where she grew up. The room where I used to stay when I’d visit.

     Of course now, it was mostly empty. I vacuumed it. I spread out my cot. I brought a dog bed for Katsu.

     By the first night of the auction, we were pretty much set. I was tired. We all were. There was my mom, my aunt Sharon, my uncle Wally, and their spouses. My cousins and my sister. They were all at the auction site.

     I sat outside on one of the sofas to be auctioned. There’d been a hole that my family had hired someone to dig. Where we threw stuff, like the chair where my uncle died, because it wasn’t salvageable. We had to have the hole covered before the auction for liability reasons. All the animals were sold by now, save the wild cats that still came around.

     I was still in awe by what was left of my grandma’s garden. I remembered helping her harvest cucumbers, and tomatoes. Sprouts of rhubarb still came up. Asparagus and onions. I picked them, cut them, tried to cook them and use what I could with what was left of the kitchen.

     But on this night a storm came. It blew everything all over. It rained and it thundered. I tried to call my family, but no one was answering.


How Dogs Experience the World

I smelled the sweat of myself—in the oversized fuchsia tank I bought the week before at the local Dollar Store, where the smell there was stale and cold—the smell of a warehouse, save maybe the aisle filled with candles. That was just after having driven from Buffalo, New York, through Canada and Customs, taking the ferry from Ludington, MI, to Sturgeon Bay, WI, then to Green Bay, a route I’d taken several times before, this time with my dog, Katsu.

     I’d read a lot about how dogs experience the world with their noses, and I wondered then, how this one smelled to him.

     Katsu mostly stayed inside, because it was so hot out.

     I wondered if he smelled the death smells—my uncle died there just four months before, as did his mom, my grandma. And in going through one of the drawers from the many upstairs dressers, I found a host of black-and-white pictures of dead people in caskets. When I asked my mom, who was there with me, getting ready for the auction, she said it was probably someone in the family—that back in those days, our ancestors used to have wakes at the house, in the parlor.

     But people were also born there. Over sixty years before, one of my mom’s fifty-some cousins took his first breath in the same room where my grandmother took her last. That cousin, Bob, was there, at the auction, on a rented golf cart. Cancer ate at his bones, and it was just an ordeal for him to get there.

     I remember the smell of manure, the smell of butchering chickens, plucking the feathers—burnt skin. The smells of my grandpa making breakfast. The smell of the chalk on the board in the common area where us kids—my many second cousins—would play school, even sitting on desks that must’ve come from someone’s town hall classroom. The smell of the basement, playing pool there, the smell of the cue. The smell of popcorn, when my aunt was still there, and would babysit for my sister and me.

     The smell of curry, from a dish I made just a few days before, using vegetables my ancestors planted, and though the garden hadn’t been tended to in ages, these dear things still made their appearance. As I cooked, I added spices I’d brought, savoring the smell of the cumin, a balance of fennel, ginger, garlic, nutritional yeast. I tasted as I went. I sipped the broth, and when I asked my mom if maybe she would like some, she took one taste, and said it was salty.

     Now the place smells like lots and lots of people. Outside groups of famers with hats and work shoes move in a pattern, following the auctioneer from wagon to wagon, tractor to tractor, from one plank filled with stuff to the next one. It smells different than my last farm auction, the home where I grew up, after my parent’s divorce and my father’s nervous breakdown. I was thirteen when that happened.

     It’s thirty-four years later.

     I sit here with that, holding my dog Katsu. He’s a rescue. I pet his thick fur. He pants. He tilts his head and looks up at me with his little bulging eyes. His mouth is so small. His breath is like magic.

Kim Chinquee’s sixth fiction collection, Wetsuit, was released in March 2019 with Ravenna Press. She is Senior Editor of New World Writing and Chief Editor of ELJ (Elm Leaves Journal).